This is marketed as “A5 slim.” This type of sizing has been appearing more frequently recently and, I have to say, I find it really irritating. A5 is an international standard size (210mm x 145mm), as defined by ISO 216. It’s used world-wide except in Canada, the USA, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. The sizing is not arbitrary: it’s governed by aspect ratio. So, if you cut an A4 piece of paper in half width-ways, you’ll get an A5 piece of paper which is in the same proportions as the A4 was. It’s very neat. However, if you take an A5 sheet of paper and trim some off the side, you lose the aspect ratio and don’t have an “A5 slim” because
A5 slim is not a thing.
If it is less than 145mm wide, it’s not A5. If you buy a kilo of cheese, the supermarket doesn’t get to call it “1kg lite” and give you 780g.
The Start Bay TN cover reviewed here is the same size as the Midori ‘standard/regular’ size, and calling it that seems to me to be more helpful and accurate. Who knows what size inserts an “A5 slim” takes? Whereas, it’s easy to find standard size TN inserts.
Look and Feel
The TN comes wrapped in a fabric cover. It looks gorgeous. I’m not sure I’d use this as a cover day to day though. The leather looks like it will age well with some scuffs and bumps, and I try to reduce the fuss and fankle of additional bags and pouches unless they’re useful.
The leather is their “vintage” colour and is lighter than the Start Bay TN I reviewed before and while I probably wouldn’t have chosen this shade had I not seen it in the flesh, it’s actually really lovely. It’s a softer leather than the Navigator but is still moderately stiff. What you prefer in this respect is down to taste: my own TN is made from very soft, floppy leather (review to come), which don’t suit everyone. This, and the very stiff leather of the Navigator, feel more hard wearing and like they’d stand up to being thrown around a bag everyday than soft leathers.
The finishing and details on these TNs is very good. As well as the fabric pouch, they are discretely embossed with Start Bay on the back. The company now offer their own branded notebooks to go inside. These have kraft covers which match the leather browns nicely, and attractive writing-themed cover designs with an inkwell on the dot grid and a dip pen on the plain. They are currently only available for the standard size (this one) and in dot grid or plain paper. The dot grid has soft blue dots. The plain paper feels thick and good quality, but I didn’t do a pen test on either.
I continue to be impressed by Start Bay. This is a lovely piece which will age well, and last. It’s got a classic look and high quality, unobtrusive detailing which should appeal to many people. Were I in the market for a new TN, Start Bay would be my first port of call.
The lovely Stu over at Pocket Notebooks sent some United Inkdom members a bumper pack of small notebooks to review. I received a really nicely presented box containing 6 approx. A6 notebooks, and a tiny wee Silvine.
All of these notebooks should be able to handle fountain pens, so I decided to put the manufacturers’ claims to the test with a variety of pens and inks. I selected a variety of purple inks for no particular reason except I like purple. Here are the pens I used:
From bottom to top (the order used in the tests):
Stabilo Boss purple highlighter
Stabilo Boss pastel purple highlighter
Zebra Mildliner soft purple
Muji gel pen (0.5mm)
Staedtler Triplus Fineliner
Uni-ball Eye (fine)
Pentel Touch brush sign pen
Tombow Mono Twin
Tombow ABT (636 Imperial Purple)
Lamy Safari fountain pen, M nib with Pelikan Edelstein Amethyst ink
Faber-Castell Basic fountain pen, EF nib, with Diamine Grape ink
Pelikan P405 fountain pen, gold EF nib, with Diamine Imperial Purple ink
Vintage Waterman fountain pen, flexible italic nib, with Diamine Asa Blue ink
The Tombow Mono Twin is a permanent, solvent-based ink, which I expected to go through the paper. You would be hard pushed to find through which the Mono Twin wouldn’t bleed- what I was checking here was how well the notebooks stood up to potential feathering with this pen, so judge the results on that rather than bleed.
The vintage Waterman is a VERY wet writer, so this really tested how well the notebooks could deal with a lot of ink. The results were somewhat surprising.
This teeny-tiny notebook is on 110mm x 72mm and 40 pages in size, but is nonetheless an impressive piece of writing kit. They retail for £7.00 for 3 (approx. €8.25 or $9 US). The paper is plain, off-white, and the notebook has a sewn binding.
This unassuming wee notebook was one of the best at standing up to the rigours of the pen test.
None of the pens tested feathered at all, which was impressive. The Mono Twin did bleed through a little but there was no ghosting apart from that.
I’d definitely put Silvine notebooks on my To Buy List, but not this small. I’d be interested in an A5 notebook from this manufacturer if it had the same thick, off-white paper. The tiny pocket would get chewed up in my bag.
The California Back Pocket Journal
These notebooks are slightly smaller than A5 at 88mm x 133mm and have 48 sheets, and a sewn (pamphlet stitch) binding. They’re available in lined, blank (as here), dot grid, graph, or a mixture of plain, lined, and dot grid, and are 3 for £10.50. The paper is 105gsm HP paper which is incredibly smooth.
The paper feels lovely, and handled everything except the very wet vintage nib, which, as you can see, feathered terribly and bled through the page. The bleed through on this was even worse than that of the Mono Twin. This was by far the worst result for the Waterman, which is surprising when everything else fared so well. There was hardly even any ghosting.
The Waterman result aside, this is a nice little notebook.
Another California Back Pocket: Tomoe River Paper
This appears almost identical to the previous, except it contains glorious Japanese Tomoe River paper. This is ivory-coloured and very thin, but can take just about anything a fountain pen can throw at it. I used a Hobonichi diary last year which was made from Tomoe River paper and have been a big fan ever since. It’s definitely worth the hype. Three of the California notebooks retail at £14.
The test results for this notebook are not at all surprising: no bleed through except for a small amount with the Mono Twin; no feathering; some ghosting due to how thin the paper is. The latter will bother some people but I don’t mind it. Tomoe River paper is a pleasure to write on.
This is the same size as the California notebooks, but has a coated cover which is a little stronger. It consists of 44 sheets of environmentally-friendly and sustainable wheat straw paper. It feels a little like recycled paper, having more texture than the other papers reviewed here, but doesn’t have the drawbacks of feathering and bleeding usually associated with recycled paper. The paper is white with very subtle specks, and the notebook is staple-bound.
This is a nice notebook, but at £6 each, they’re pricey. For my money, I’d rather get a Tomoe River notebook for £4.67, though I appreciate the environmentally-sustainable way the Inky Fingers notebooks are made.
The lines are narrow at 6mm, which I like. The lines are made of micro-dots which is a nice detail.
Also available are a blank notebook, and a Currently Inked Log book for the same price.
Clairefontaine 1951 Retro Nova
French company Clairefontaine make a variety of notebooks and jotters, supplying a lot of French schoolchildren with their classroom needs. They’re a favourite manufacturer of mine because of their high-quality paper, wide range, and good prices.
The Retro Nova is marginally bigger than the previous notebooks at 88mm x 140mm with 64 smooth ivory pages, and a sewn binding. They are 3 for £8, which is a stone cold bargain. Each of the three has a different cover pattern too. The one pictured here is “novelle vague.”
The pen test showed just how good Clairefontaine paper is. There was no feathering, minimal ghosting, and only the infamous Mono Twin bled through.
Story Supply Co.
Beneath a plain exterior decorated only by the Story Supply co.’s cheerful, retro logo, lies a solid little notebook. It’s 90mm x 140mm, with 48 pages of staple-bound, off-white paper. I tested the lined notebook, which has 5mm spacing. This retails at 3 for £11.
I wasn’t familiar with this company before, and was pleasantly surprised by how well the paper dealt with all of the pens. There was no feathering, little ghosting, and only the Mono Twin bled through (though there were slight hints of almost-bleeding through from the Waterman).
I liked this notebook a lot, but if pushed would have to state a preference for the Clairefontaine above. The Story Supply Co. paper is not quite as good, and it’s an extra £1 per notebook, for an inferior binding.
This is a differently sized notebook at 100mm x 140mm, so it looks a bit squarer than the others. It has 56 pages of white, dot grid, 100gsm paper and is staple-bound. Interestingly, the ‘dots’ are tiny crosses. These cost £8 for 3.
The Darkstar handled most of the pens well but the Waterman and even the Pentel Touch (which is also a wet writer) both feathered slightly. The Mono Twin and the Waterman bled through the paper, though the ghosting wasn’t bad at all.
This was a really interesting set of notebooks and I’m very grateful for the chance to test them all. My favourites were the Clairefontaine and the California Tomoe River. The Clairefontaine is the ideal combination of high quality and good value. The Tomoe River is a higher price for a specialist product that some people (like me) will love but may find the ghosting and long ink-drying times a frustration.
The Bullet Journal is enjoying huge popularity at the moment. Although Ryder Carroll unveiled his idea several years ago to great success, something’s happened in the last few months to propel his system into the public eye. Buzzfeed has runseveralarticles about it too.
What is a bullet journal?
First thing’s first. Check out Ryder’s website. He created and refined the system and all credit is owed to him. There’s a great wee introductory video on his site and it’s the best place to start. Go check it out now. I’ll wait- it’s not long.
Ok. So now you know the system in its purest form. As you can see from bulletjournal.com though, there are so many ways you can adapt and customise it to suit your own circumstances and requirements. Check out #bulletjournal on Instagram and you’ll see lots of variations. (But do that later because there are currently nearly a quarter of a million photos there!)
What kit do I need?
A notebook of some kind and a pen of some kind.
Whatever notebook and pen(s) you choose are up to your tastes and funds. I use a Leuchtturm dotted A5 notebook which is a popular choice for bullet journaling because of the good quality paper, low price, and range of colours. You can use anything though.
Moleskine notebooks are also popular but the paper is inferior to that of the Leuchtturm and it won’t take fountain pen ink so it’s not an option for me. Should Moleskine ever up their paper game I’d be all over them- they have a great range of sizes and styles, though I think they’re over-priced.
If you like spiral-bound notebooks, use one of those. If you want to try the system out in a cheap school-style jotter, go for it. Already using a Filofax? You can create a bullet journal right there. You can even add it to your existing planner or diary if there’s a little space for it.
Use whatever pens you like. I love fountain pens so I use those. Pilot Frixion pens are erasable so you won’t have ugly scoring out when things inevitably need rescheduled. Pencils are even more erasable, so use those if you like them. That scabby old ballpoint you picked up from who knows where? If you like it and it works, use it!
Whatever you choose, DO NOT get hung up on getting the “right” supplies. You don’t need washi tape. You don’t need all 6892 colours of Staedtler Triplus Fineliner or all 3 packs of Zebra Mildliners imported from Japan.
My adapted bullet journal system
The starkness of Ryder’s system doesn’t work for me. I prefer something more visual- boxing off lists and days and months, and so forth. I like to have a bit of colour in mine and I prefer ticking off boxes to crossing out bullets.
Along with the usual things (appointments, social events, etc), I also have some more unusual things to track. There’s my thesis: the most important thing. There’s also my blog, a part-time job, university tutoring, and some freelance work. I use monthly and weekly spreads to help me with these. Some of the detail (such as my train times) goes on Google Calendar instead. This is purely to keep things from getting too cluttered. It doesn’t make a significant difference to my planning if I get one train or the next one, so I don’t put it in my bullet journal. However, I do need to know if I have a ticket that’s only valid for a certain train, so I put that on Google Calendar and get a electronic reminder.
I also like countdowns so I use my bullet journal for these. For example, I have one that counts down to my PhD submission. I used another to count down the time I had left in the archives when I was doing my research in Florence.
Is it still a bullet journal if I adapt it?
There have been debates online recently, some needlessly heated, about whether or not the more ornate versions are still bullet journals. I use ticky boxes instead of bullets, so perhaps mine isn’t a bullet journal at all. It really doesn’t matter. I think the only person who has any right to decide if something is a bullet journal or not is Ryder, the inventor, and he seems quite happy to feature non-traditional, adapted, and ornate versions on his site.
I also think that the name we give a system is barely even a secondary concern compared to the key question: does it work for you? There’s no sense in moving from a colourful, decorated planner which works for you to a minimalist one in order to conform to what puritans think is the only way to bullet journal (or vice versa). If someone wants to tell you that you have deviated too greatly from canon and you have no right to call what you have a bullet journal then, meh. Something has probably gone a bit wrong in that person’s life that they are getting upset over the nomenclature of someone else’s to do list. Be kind to the poor wee scone, but ignore them.